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For most of the year after I left active duty, I was the supply sergeant for a National Guard infantry company in Maryland, right up the road from the University of Maryland, College Park, in fact. Its location in the Washington, D.C. suburbs meant we had a lot of suburban white kids and a smaller number of working class black kids from D.C. in the ranks. Most of them had a pretty low opinion of the kind of people who went to the U of M. One thing in particular struck me - whenever CSN&Y's "Ohio" came on the radio, there would be a lot of smirks and occasionally outright laughter. A lot of folks would think that this was a pretty insensitive reaction to a plaintive song about innocence and death at the hands of the military, but since I'd grown up watching protesters on TV calling my father and thousands like him "baby killers", I didn't have a lot of sympathy for that point of view. Those four kids and their fellow protesters went out looking for trouble. They found it, and they died, only to be resurrected as pathetic symbols in a rock & roll protest song.

This got me to thinking about all the antiwar movies made in the wake of Vietnam which have been turned on their heads and adopted by enlisted men as icons. The Deer Hunter. Apocalypse Now. Full Metal Jacket. All of them were intended to show the foolishness, randomness, stupidity, and the brutality of war - and all of them have been absorbed, reforged and changed by their military audience in ways that would probably horrify their auteurs. Animal Mother, Colonel Kilgore and Colonel Kurtz were not intended to be heroes or role models - but they are. I have often said, "If I had a quarter for every helmet liner I've seen with BORN TO KILL scrawled on it, I could have retired by now" and it's true; that slogan and the equally ironic peace symbol were everywhere in the Cold War Army of the 1970s and 80s.

Usually, I don't have a lot of patience with the notion of deconstruction, or the interpretation of text by the reader changing that text in ways not intended by the author. Looking at the way those three movies were perceived, mutated, and abused by their military audiences, though, makes me wonder if there might not be something to it after all.

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